Nanko Plum

_梅干し(黒モジ付) _梅干し(枝有り)

Ume, or Japanese plum, is absolutely essential to the food culture of Japan. It’s a popular ingredient in onigiri rice balls, the central constituent of umeshu plum liqueur, and is used in a wide variety of food products including juices, jams and teas.

The top producer of this vital Japanese fruit is Wakayama Prefecture. And within the many varieties of ume produced in the region, the Nanko ume is by far the most popular.

The Nanko ume traces its origins back to the town of Minabe in the prefecture’s Hidaka District. The area is located in the central region of the prefecture, with long daylight hours, rolling hills and mild temperatures year-round thanks to the Kuroshio Current, which brings warm water north from Okinawa and the tropical seas. These kinds of natural features are ideal for ume cultivation.

Ume have long been harvested in Minabe. In 1902, a local farm owner named Takada Sadagusu wanted to convert a mulberry field into an ume field, and bought 60 seedlings of Uchinaka ume—considered an excellent breed at the time—from a nearby farmer and started planting them. One of these seedlings grew to bear a wealth of large fruit that had beautiful crimson shades. He carefully developed this seedling into a seed tree, naming it Takada ume after himself. This was the foundation of Nanko ume.

The name was changed in the 1950s, when a committee that spent five years researching the best ume parent species recognized Takada ume as the nation’s top brand. Since the research was assisted by teachers at Minabe High School, the characters for Takada (高田) and Minabe (南部) were combined to form 南高, which can be read as Nanko—thus renaming the brand.

Nanko ume have especially large fruit with rich, soft pulp, offering excellent taste and texture. They are now widely known both domestically and internationally as the best ume breed.

The harvested plums are processed primarily into umeboshi (pickled plums) and umeshu. Their well-shaped, attractive appearance also makes them a popular gift. Today, at 20,000 tons per year, Nanko-ume account for over 70 percent of the Minabe ume harvest, and roughly 17 percent of the national share. Overall, Wakayama Prefecture produces roughly 67,000 tons of ume annually, accounting for some 60 percent of the national harvest.

Though there may be many chances to try ume on a visit to Japan, you cannot talk about the essence of Japanese ume without trying the Nanko ume in Wakayama Prefecture.

_青梅(木なり) _青梅

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